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Player Preview: Will Paul Watson stand out for the Raptors?

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Perhaps it’s just a mirage, but could the Raptors have something with one of their latest additions, swingman Paul Watson? Let’s investigate.

Toronto Raptors v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

It can feel like Paul Watson Jr. came out of nowhere for the Raptors. He wasn’t on the team, then, suddenly, he was. That “suddenly” accounts for the burst of optimism we feel about him now as Toronto gears up for their 2020-21 season. Watson went from being just some guy at the end of the Raptors’ bench who joined the team mid-season in 2020, to a potential rotation piece — and who knows what else. If we’re getting ahead of ourselves, fine, but then let’s consider how we got here.

After drifting through a Summer League with the Raptors in 2017, Watson made a brief (e.g. one game) appearance with BG Göttingen in Germany before settling in with the Westchester Knicks of the G League until 2019. That’s when he finally returned to the Raptors’ organization, and — after a 10-day contract stop with the Hawks — that’s where he finds himself now. As reported by former HQer Kelsea O’Brien, Watson cleared one last hurdle in his career, jumping from two-way contract player to full-timer in the NBA. What a journey.

So, in point of fact, “suddenly” doesn’t quite apply to Watson. Officially listed at 6’6” and 210 pounds, the soon-to-be 26-year-old swingman has worked his way over the past few years into rotational consideration in Toronto. As it stands now, the Raptors are still likely to lean on their more established guards and wings — with all of Norman Powell, Matt Thomas, DeAndre’ Bembry, Terence Davis, and the still recovering Patrick McCaw in line to play before Watson. But as we saw at the end of the Bubble last season, Watson flashed some tantalizing skills as a play-maker, shooter, and finisher, that could be of use for the Raptors this season.

That flash of talent was on display in, yes, a meaningless game, the last regular season contest of the 2019-20 season. But nonetheless, Watson put on a show, going off for 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting (including 4-of-6 from 3), while grabbing six rebounds, dishing two assists, and chipping in a steal too. As befits the modern day NBA, Watson’s height, length, and skill-set grant him the versatility the Raptors are looking for these days for their roster — and on the wing in particular. In this case, Watson has shown he can shoot from deep, can handle the ball to play-make a bit, and has the reach and footspeed to play effective defense on various types of players.

Setting aside that one game, however, Watson hasn’t gotten much of a chance to show off his skills consistently in the NBA. In 2019-20 — his rookie season — he appeared in just ten games (two for Atlanta, eight for Toronto), while posting averages of 3.1 points, 1.7 rebounds, and 0.8 assists with a modest shooting line of 39 percent from the floor, 33 percent from three, and 78 percent from the line. It’s in the G League when we really see what kind of impact Watson makes while on the floor. Last season for the 905, he put up 19.0 points per game, 6.6 rebounds, and 1.9 assists, while shooting 49 percent from the floor, a hard-to-ignore 42 percent frome three, and (somehow) 65 percent from the line. This was across 30 games in which Watson played an average of 35.3 minutes per game as one of the 905’s anchoring presences. These numbers also represent sizable leaps over his previous two years with the Westchester Knicks.

So, yes, it’s fun to project how else Watson can grow into more fulsome role with the Raptors. As noted, however, the roster as currently constructed doesn’t necessarily give him a steady path to minutes. There’s something else to factor in here though. If Toronto and head coach Nick Nurse think they can rely on Watson in the future as the team’s backup two-guard or small forward, maybe a trade becomes more palatable to balance the roster.

As noted, the Raptors have quite a few players in that two-guard slot and on the wing. Obviously OG Anunoby is a lock, and someone who can play power forward (and even centre), but they’re holding onto quite a few players with duplicate abilities — and have just one back-up power forward (Chris Boucher) and a lack of size in general on the team. (So much so, we’ve even wondered if it’s worth it for Toronto to re-consider the recently waived Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.) What’s more, some of those players — like McCaw, Stanley Johnson, and, yes, even Norm — represent very tradeable contract holds for Toronto. It’s possible the Raps could package them for the type of player they need now — or sweeten the deal with draft picks to get a bigger name.

This is all conjecture, and, in truth, we’re no longer directly talking about Watson and his on-court abilities. But what it suggests is that Toronto could turn to him in the near future. Nurse has made it clear that they see him as part of the Raptors’ program going forward, and Watson has shown growth in all of the necessary skills he’ll need to make it at the NBA level. All he needs is an opportunity to succeed (or fail) — and that could be coming too.